You’re sitting in math class waiting for the bell to ring when your teacher begins to hand back tests from last week. You’re nervous, but it couldn’t have gone that poorly, right?
The teacher places your test on your desk, face down. You stare at it, trying to trace the outline of red pen that you can faintly see through the back of the paper. You flip your test over. In red pen, staring up at you, is the letter F and the words “See Me.” Gulp.
So what do you do now? What should any student in this situation do? Consider these five steps for moving forward.
- Don’t Panic!
Even though your body might feel like it’s dying, you’re going to be okay. Breath in and out at least ten times. Remember that everyone messes up sometimes.
- Figure Out Why!
After school, take your time and go through your answers. Remember that you failed for a reason. Even though your grade might be your main focus, understanding why you failed is equally important. Think about what happened.
- What specifically about this content was challenging?
- Were you prepared–how much did you study?
- Do you understand the material now or was it just a bad day?
- If yes, what can you do to avoid a bad day impacting a test like this in the future?
Finally, go through your exam and see if you can pinpoint your problem areas. Make a list of all the concepts you’re shaky on. If this is hard to do alone, ask for help.
- Talk to Your Teacher!
Talking to your teacher can be the scariest part, but often ends up making you feel much better. First, ask them about a time that will work for both of you for a private conversation. Do your best not to be defensive, although it can be helpful to share anything “behind-the-scenes” that they may not know about. Show them that you care about learning the material, not just getting a good grade, including the notes you took on your “problem areas.” If you are normally a strong student, your teacher probably knows that something is wrong. If the particular class is not your strong suit, use this as an opportunity to make a change and share your interest in improving in their class.
- Do the work!
This is both the most important step and the least fun one. You’ve got to do the work. If you and your teacher made some sort of deal, whether that’s extra credit or a retake of some kind, this is the time to do the work and impress. Prove to your teacher that they were right to give you an opportunity. If fixing your test grade isn’t an option, ask your teacher for some resources and extra copies of the test or of handouts that you can work to brush up on the material. Also, consider requesting extra support in advance of the next test. You can do it!
- Keep it from happening again!
Now that you know what failing a test feels like, hopefully you’ll be better at preventing it from happening in the future. If down the line you start slipping again or maybe there’s a concept or two that you didn’t understand, be proactive. Ask questions! It doesn’t mean you’re stupid or you’re behind, it means you’re being proactive about your education, and your teacher will appreciate how hard you’re trying. Make a study plan well in advance of the next test, even if you’re comfortable with the topic.
It may not feel this way, but try to remember that studies show you actually gain a deeper understanding and retain more information when making and correcting mistakes than when you get everything completely right in the first place.*
The most important thing is to stop, realized what happened, and do your best to rectify the situation. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen, don’t shove it under your mattress and ignore it, don’t blame your teacher and move on.
If you ever feel really stuck, remember that there’s always someone to help, whether it be a friend, a family member, a teacher, or a tutor. Your education is something to invest time, energy, and heart into — you’re worth it.